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NICRE Welcome Blog

NICRE Welcome Blog

7 October 2020

20 years in the making

In publishing, it’s often said that overnight sensations are 20 years in the making, writes Prof Matthew Gorton. We hope NICRE is a hit, as it has been in development for two decades. 

In the late 1990s, Jeremy Phillipson and I started working on rural enterprise. At the time it was often treated as a synonym for agriculture or a niche concern. It is far removed from ‘national’ economic questions and concerns. 

We enjoy the support of many partners and have had an injection of funding from Research England. 

We now have the opportunity to bring rural enterprise to the forefront of policy and economic development.

The significance of the rural economy

Today, we recognise the rural economy as a significant entity in itself. It stretches far beyond traditional sectors, including agriculture, food and tourism. 

In England, the rural economy: 

  • encompasses over half a million enterprises
  • includes 3.5 million employees 
  • contributes over £250 billion to GDP 

Yet the rural economy remains overlooked within mainstream enterprise policies, support and research. The industry gives little attention to how rural areas can contribute to national economic policies. These include the Industrial Strategy and ‘Levelling Up’ agendas. 

Innovation and enterprise

Innovation and enterprise policy are often separate from rural policy, to the detriment of both. 

NICRE aims to address these gaps and responds to a call from the recent House of Lords Rural Economy Select Committee. For rural economies, they asked for an accessible and respected source of: 

  • evidence
  • knowledge exchange 
  • enterprise development  

In this vein, you may like to read NICRE’s recent submission to the BEIS Economic Recovery Task Force on Levelling Up.

To date, we know that rural enterprises are a significant source of innovation, business growth and exports. A lot of this potential goes unfulfilled. 

For instance, there are double the number of rural businesses that state that they have goods and services for exporting than actually do so. Rural businesses also report that they face greater difficulties, compared to urban counterparts. This is in regards to recruiting skilled staff, accessing external finance and advice. It's also about realising new innovation. 

Yet rural areas own natural capital. We can utilise this in enterprise development while contributing to environmental policy goals. NICRE aims to overcome barriers to enterprise development and unlock potential. 

To tackle this agenda, NICRE will work on a set of projects alongside: 

  • business service providers
  • regional and national government departments 
  • agencies 

This strengthens the evidence base and pilot innovation projects with communities and businesses. We want to address their pressing challenges. 


We will also enjoy close collaboration with the National Innovation Centres for Ageing and Data. Newcastle University host both of these Centres. 

I’m particularly looking forward to working with colleagues at NICRE partner Universities, whom I have long admired. The Enterprise Research Centre at Warwick is the preeminent small business research centre in the UK. 

We work with the Countryside and Community Research Institute at the University of Gloucestershire and the Royal Agricultural University. 

They bring expertise in:

  • agri-food business and policy
  • agri-environmental management 
  • community-led rural development 

This complements our own expertise at the Centre for Rural Economy and Business School at Newcastle. We excel in knowledge about rural small businesses, policy and territorial development.

Coronavirus impact

NICRE’s inauguration coincides with the Coronavirus crisis and we’ll contribute to recovery plans. 

We’ll work with partners to: 

  • understand the effect of the crisis on rural businesses
  • assess the effectiveness and reach of mitigation measures
  • devise strategies for economic recovery 

One lesson of the crisis is the importance of innovation, skills and market intelligence of coping with adversity. This makes NICRE’s mission even more important than ever.

Finally, achieving this mission requires a collective effort. This will involve all who have an interest in seeing the full potential of our rural economies released. 

We are very keen to work with you, please do get in touch.

Find out more about NICRE